Her sound manifests the perfect combination of slow, simple distortions and whimsical pop. Although she's yet to tour, gobbinjr is on the rise in the indie lo-fi music scene. What The Sound had the opportunity to chat with Emma Witmer of gobbinjr a couple weeks ago in Brooklyn. We talked about who she hopes to tour with, cassette tapes, the meaning behind her debut album name Manalang, and much more.
What The Sound: Where does gobbinjr come from?
gobbinjr: Well, it was a really impulsive move, I named it after my bong. I named it gobbin when I was high. I don’t know what it means, I just thought it sounded cool. And I thought no one would judge me with a name like gobbinjr.
Is there a gobbinsr?
No, but I was talking to some friends about doing that. One of my friends wants me to make a music video and have one of my friends be gobbinsr, but yeah, there’s no gobbinsr.
This project, it's just you? Your own solo project?
Well, recording-wise, it’s just me. I’m getting a live band together, so then it will be more collaborative.
Will the live band consist of people you know well?
The live band will mostly be friends of mine. One of my closest friends, Santi, and another one of my closest friends, Haley, will be in it. And another friend of a friend, acquaintance, Yuki will be in it. It’ll be really fun.
What instruments do you play?
I play the guitar, bass, I play drums but I couldn’t record live drums, so those are all like fake drums. And then, keyboards. And then there are a bunch of weird goofy instruments in there like an omnichord and a Kaossilator.
What was your process in creating your most recent and debut album, Manalang? What was your thought process in the creation of this project? Did you begin creating it pre-gobbinjr?
Some of these songs I wrote when I was 15 years old and kept on the back burner. A couple of them I actually put on SoundCloud a while back but I took them down. Mostly it was just my friends who listened to them, I never really had the time to put out a full album, so it was just all on the back burner. So then, this summer, I was going home for the summer because I couldn’t find an internship that I really wanted to do in the city. And my parents moved to a city where I didn’t really know anyone there, so I mainly just wanted to be busy when I went back home. I didn’t really want to be sitting around the house doing nothing. So, it took me about two months to finish the whole thing.
Where does the name, Manalang, come from?
I go to school at NYU, and one day the health center sent out these texts that were just tests to see if it would actually work if there was an emergency and at the end of one of them, it just said “manalang”. There was no explanation, no one knows what it means, and I just thought it was really goofy. Same thing with “gobbinjr”, you don’t think of anything when hearing it.
When you went home this past summer, did you record the tracks at home? Or when you came back to the City? Also, where is "home"?
Well, my parents moved to Champaign, Illinois. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. Most of my album was recorded in Champaign, some of it in Madison, Wisconsin.
Are your parents into music? How did you get into music? How did you learn how to play all these instruments?
My parents aren't musicians, my mom learned some instruments when she was young. My parents had me take piano lessons when I was four years old and then they made me stick with it until I was like 16. I’m so thankful because I wanted to quit so many times but if I quit, i don’t know where I would be now. So yeah, they kind of forced me into it.
When I first heard "don'tchya kno", I right away thought of Zooey Deschanel. Have you ever gotten that comparison?
Can you see that comparison?
Yeah! That’s funny. Kind of a whimsical sound. I can see that, that’s awesome.
In the past, have you had friends who have compared you to any particular musicians? Do you have anyone that you like to compare yourself to?
Let’s see… I’ve had trouble with that, I can’t really compare myself to other people. But some people said… I got this awesome comparison, it was a mix between Best Coast, St. Vincent, Animal Collective, and someone else. I forgot who the last one was but it was really cool. My friends have compared me to Eskimeaux.
Is there a significance between your album artwork and the album?
Oh yeah, the kid… I was just at a junk store (on Driggs Ave., down the street from where the interview took place) and I just found the picture in a pile of little pictures in the store, and bought it for a buck because I thought it was really cool. I like meaningless things. It definitely has a different connotation now than little boy on a bicycle, or little girl, I don’t know.
Moving aside from the music, I'm curious if you could tell me about the reason why artists have been releasing their music on cassette tapes recently instead of CDs or vinyl. I see that you recently released this album on Gold Flake Tapes. Are you not planning on releasing Manalang on CDs or vinyl?
I don’t listen to that many tapes, I only own a few. I kind of like how gritty and dingy it sounds. It’s got a very distinct sound to it, but it’s definitely not for every album. I definitely wouldn’t only listen to cassettes. I actually had 75 CDs printed at CD Baby, and then I sewed some pouches for it, so they’re kinda limited and handmade. I think they’re cute, and I’m selling those on my Bandcamp. No plans on vinyl yet, but I would love to, vinyl’s my favorite.
How did your record label, Infinite Best, find you?
I still have no idea, I’ve yet to ask them. It may have been through Twitter, I feel like a lot of people find me on Twitter because I tweet a lot.
Nice, that's good PR on your part. When were you signed to them?
Yeah! It was a week after I released the album, and they just sent me an e-mail like “Hey, we really like this and we want to make it a bigger release for you”... It was really cool.
Who are your favorite labelmates?
Oooooh, Mr. Twin Sister oooooh. Ava Luna, I love Ava Luna so much.
In the song "U", I caught a little bit of repetitive whispers at the end saying "dirty sheets, dirty dirty sheets"... what was that?
In my parents house, they have a lot of radio reception in that area for some reason. I just recorded that track on this really old tape machine, and I guess it didn’t have anything to prevent that. It was obviously a lot more noticeable on that tape machine than on my computer, where everything else was recorded. So that was unintentional, but I didn’t want to cut it out. I liked it. I don’t really know what it is.
So, you recorded all of your album on your computer, and only "U" on cassette tape?
How did you go about titling your tracks? For instance, "candy apples and razor blades"? They're all pretty unique and weird.
That song was very much about being alone and not especially having the best thoughts about yourself. It was kinda bittersweet, like “candy apples and razor blades”. I don’t know, when I was younger, someone told me to check my apples for razor blades, I thought that was really weird and it kind of stuck in my memory. Other songs, it’s really what I felt like naming them. Songs like “don’tchya kno”, “i can’t sleep”, obviously I say that in the songs.
And... "always underground"?
Yeah, that’s because I used to live in a basement… I like basements. I kind of had this fantasy when I was younger about just going out and living in a cave. Just being completely secluded. And so that’s kind of what basement’s feel like to me, and that’s why I really like them. That’s what that’s all about.
When you compiled Manalang, did you play around much with the order of the tracks?
A lot of it was how it sounded to me. I wanted to put “bb gurl” up there by the front because I knew people would hear the first lyric and be kind of shocked. I liked having “u” as the first song to throw people off you know, But yeah, it was mostly just random. People have asked me if I made it really intentional, if it was a concept album, but it’s not. Not really, at all.
What's the reason behind why "bb gurl" has so many more plays on SoundCloud than the rest of your songs?
I didn’t single that one out at all, it was Gold Flake Paint (the blog), they made a playlist and put “bb gurl” as the first song on the playlist. It was a 74-song playlist and I was very first, I felt wonderful. It was really sweet of them, but yeah, that’s why.
Have you toured in the past or played any live shows?
I mean, I used to be in other bands. I was in a band called Modern Mod in Madison (WI) and I played live as a drummer for them for a long time.
Never as gobbinjr though. I’m pretty anxious, and I know that my friends are very talented, so I think it will work out.
Have your friends been in any touring live acts who will be in your band?
I don’t think any of them have toured. I think they were mostly in bands from high school who toured around their areas.
That's really cool though, because I'm sure you're excited for your future. I'm excited for your future. How do you think your live sets and the way you play your songs will differentiate from your recorded versions?
Well, there’s obviously not going to be quite as much detail. Which is something that I’ll just have to reconcile with because I just want to get every part of the recording on to the live stage, but it’s pretty impossible. But I do think it will be really fun. It’s going to stay just as riffy, I want to keep all the riffs. It’s just some of the background stuff may not be there. I’m in the process of arranging all the stuff right now, been thinking about it a lot. It’s going to be good, I think it will be really great.
Is there any specific venue that you would like to have gobbinjr debut at in New York City?
I mean Shea Stadium, Shea Stadium’s my favorite.
One year from now, you're touring, is there anyone that you would love to tour with?
Well, my favorite band is Generationals.
Ah, yes, love Generationals. My favorite song of theirs is "Angry Charlie".
Angry Charlie!!!!! They’re so good! They’re first two albums… ActorCaster... I think that’s my favorite album.
I heard that one song that you're featured on by Diveo, who's he?
Diveo, he’s very electronic and pretty cool.. He’s my friend, he’s from NYU. I was living at my parent’s house when we made it. He was living in Connecticut so I just sent him some tracks to sing along on the song and he just fucked them around and made them really cool. That was before I was gobbinjr, I just made him change it recently.
I just saw in The Line of Best Fit's write-up about you, your full name... Emma Jerk Witmer. "Jerk" isn't actually your middle name, is it?
No it’s not! Did TLOBF call me that?
Yeah, they did!
I did not see that -- jeez! That’s my Facebook name. That’s silly of them.
Yeah, I was wondering if that was a Great Aunt or something...
Oh yeah, Great Aunt Jerk! Love her.
What can we look forward to in the future from gobbinjr? This is a recent project so there's really no rush for anything new, and it's all about what you want, but any ideas?
Well, right now I was thinking about making an EP just on tape. Then giving it out for free at concerts and with CDs when people buy it. And then just putting it up to stream online. Those would just be quick songs. I do have two new songs for the next release done. I don’t know, I need to write a lot more. I’m still working on stuff, but yeah, I’m going to try to play a lot of live shows.
Last, I'm wondering if there are any artists that you really like that you think WTS followers should know about?
My favorite artist from Wisconsin is Honeymooners. And he’s really cool, he’s really talented. It’s just one guy, his name is Eli Smith. I really like his music so I highly recommend him.
Here’s a shout-out to Modern Mod, my old band. And Post Social, which is a band that were kind of friends with Modern Mod when I was in the band.
So yeah, those three from Wisconsin for sure.
East Coast bands, there are so many that I love. Bands I like are Ava Luna and Mr. Twin Sister obviously. Eskimeaux, Frankie Cosmos, Baked, Celestial Shore, Porches, Florist, everyone in The Epoch, including some of those, plus Told Slant and others. It’s a collective, they’re all really great.